In the last five years, especially since 2015, Test cricket has seen four of the modern greats show some amazing consistency and match-winning ability. With the current generation of cricketers looking forward more towards the limited-overs games, the ‘Big Four’ of Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson, and Steve Smith have taken the baton of Test cricket from former greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, etc. and have become ambassadors for the longest format of the game.
Their sheer will to play the red-ball cricket and desire to succeed in it inspires many young budding cricketers to play Test cricket for their respective countries and become like their idols. Captaining their sides have brought prosperity and a sense of responsibility to their batting and all the four at the moment in the peak of their cricketing careers. But while we laud the Big Four, the decade is ending and it is only apt we take a look at where they stand.
Among the four, Joe Root has scored the highest number of runs (7282) in 162 Test innings at an average of 48.54 scoring 17 hundreds and 3 double-hundreds. Root took the reigns of England Test captaincy after Alastair Cook stepped down from the position but ever since, his batting average has dropped from 52.80 to 42.66. He has constantly changed his batting position too with England struggling in identifying their top four.
Although he scored a double-century against New Zealand in their second Test at Seddon Park recently, Root’s position in the Big Four is under question as he has not been the batsman he was when he was not the captain. However, time is on his side and the 28-year-old can end up setting the records straight among the four players.
Virat Kohli has transformed as a Test player ever since he had taken the captaincy in India’s tour of Australia in 2014-2015, a series in which he scored four Test hundreds and has never looked back since. In 141 innings, he has scored 7202 runs, at an amazing average of 54.97 with 27 hundreds and a stupendous 7 double-centuries, surpassing Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag to become the Indian batsman with the most double centuries. He is India’s most successful captain in terms of win percentage and his captaincy has taken his batting to a completely different level. He has scored 5104 runs in 53 Tests as captain and has an unbelievable average of 63.80, scoring runs all over the world.
Probably the best batsman in Test cricket at the moment, Steve Smith has had a career that had started as a leg-spinner. But he came into his own when he scored 698 runs in seven innings versus India when they toured Australia in 2014-15. Since then he has never looked back and had been a very successful Australian captain.
However, the sandpaper gate saw him banned for a year and many expected a rusty Smith to play against England in the Ashes. But Smith proved everyone wrong again as he scored an unbelievable 774 runs in 4 matches at an unreal average of 110.57. In a Test career that has spanned 126 innings, Smith has scored 7013 runs at an average of 63.75. One can only imagine the mind-boggling numbers with which Smith is going to end his Test career if he continues in this fashion.
Kane Williamson has taken the baton from Brendon McCullum and has kept the Black Caps at the very top of their game as a skipper. He has scored 6322 runs in 133 Test innings at an average of 52.68 with 21 hundreds and 2 double-hundreds. New Zealand have thrived as a Test team under his captaincy and have challenged every team in their home conditions. Williamson’s brilliant captaincy reflects in his batting as he averages 60.13 as a captain.
Converting 50s to 100s
One of the main reasons why Joe Root has the least number of hundreds among the Big Four even after having scored the most runs among them is because of his poor conversion rate. He has often been criticized for throwing away starts and he has not been able to be the consistent batsman he was before taking the captaincy. He has a total of 45 scores of 50+ that he has failed to convert into a hundred, which tells a lot about his conversion rate. Barring the double century against New Zealand this week, Root has not really hit the straps as far as getting those big hundreds is concerned.
In the initial part of Kohli’s career, there used to be instances where he used to get small 100s but he later went on to become a hungry beast with the captaincy gracing his patience and temperament. He has more number of Test hundreds (27 including 7 double-hundreds) than he has Test fifties (22) and his hunger and intensity to keep on going for the betterment of the team is absolutely astonishing.
The unorthodox style of Steve Smith has often helped him score big hundreds and play those marathon innings that would put his team in a great position. His conversion rate is almost 50 percent which tells that he is ready to take responsibility for the team and that was very evident when Australia regained the Ashes in England after 18 long years only due to the heroics of Smith with the bat.
Probably the most technically sound among the four, Kane Williamson has always had the best patience and temperament and has the capability of playing a marathon innings but it almost felt at one point that he wasn’t doing justice to the talent he has. That seems to have changed since he has taken over the captaincy as he is scoring big hundreds in foreign conditions and having a conversion rate of almost 40 percent tells that a bit more consistency will help him grow into an even more responsible batsman.
Test form after 2015
After Kohli and Smith’s breakthrough series as world-class batsmen in that 2014-15 India’s tour of Australia, the Big Four were beginning to get compared more regularly and their career graph has ever since been under the scanner consistently. Having missed a year due to ban, Steve Smith still proved in the Ashes that even though he has scored lesser runs than Root, he is still the best Test batsman at the moment as since 2015 he averages an astonishing 72.01 with 19 centuries. While that one year has cost Smith about 1000-1500 runs, he still is as hungry as ever to keep on playing and become one of Australia’s greatest-ever batsmen.
Joe Root has scored the most runs since 2015 but has also played more innings than the other three and has a lowest average among the four of 47.84. Scoring just 12 centuries in this period, Root once again highlighted his problem of converting 50s in to big 100s.
Kohli since 2015 has been the Indian test captain and has consistently performed with the bat averaging 62.15 with 18 hundreds. He has instilled a new kind of faith in the team culture that his Indian team can go anywhere in the world and with the bowling attack that they possess now can destroy any opponent in their own den. Naturally for the team’s cause. Kohli himself has grown as a batsman and as a gentleman of the game.
Williamson averages 65.43 since 2015 and has taken the Black Caps Test legacy to a whole new level helping players like Mitchell Santner, Colin de Grandhomme, Trent Boult, etc. turn into genuine match-winners. His calming influence on the team combined with the aggressive style of captaincy has made the Black Caps a force to reckon with.
The fact that Root’s average has remained in the 40s while the remaining three have gone into the pro-60 category shows where the Big Four (or Big Three) stand right now.